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Why alcohol withdrawal is treated with medication

Alcohol addiction can take on many forms. It’s a physical, mental, and spiritual disease, although some of these components manifest differently in different people.

Physical addiction to alcohol can reek havoc on the human body. Being physically addicted can cause a person to go to extreme lengths to get alcohol. Normally, the goal is to avoid becoming sick because when a physically addicted body needs its drug of choice, it will go into withdrawal if it doesn’t get it. Withdrawal can be one reason a person may avoid getting sober. It’s known to be painful and scary, but with the right help, alcohol withdrawal can be properly treated so that you can begin your new sober life.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

When your body becomes physically addicted to alcohol, there are physical consequences if you deprive your body of this drug after a period of heavy drinking. These painful, physical symptoms are a manifestation of alcohol withdrawal.

Your risk for withdrawal increases as you drink more often and as you drink more in one sitting. It’s possible to have withdrawal symptoms with increased severity if you also have other medical conditions.

Timeline of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but they can also occur days later. Symptoms peak at 24 to 74 hours after the last drink, but can go on for weeks.

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

-Anxiety
-Fatigue
-Depression
-Shakiness
-Nightmares
-Mood swings
-Rapid heart rate
-Sweating
-Headache
-Clammy skin
-Insomnia
-Nausea and vomiting
-Not thinking clearly
-Irritability
-Hallucinations
-Seizures

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary widely. In some cases, they can be mild, others severe, or life-threatening.

Medications used for alcohol withdrawal

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are usually self-diagnosable. In many cases, alcohol withdrawal requires medical attention and hospital admission.

A healthcare provider should first perform a physical exam to monitor symptoms and understand which type of symptoms need treatment. Inpatient treatment for addiction can also treat alcohol withdrawal.

The goal of therapy is to safely reduce withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications of alcohol use, and continued treatment to set you on a path of abstinence from future alcohol consumption.

Medications are often used to treat physical symptoms while counseling and group therapy help with psychological and behavioral issues associated with addiction. Medical professionals often administer IV fluids for patients physically dehydrated from chronic alcohol abuse. Monitoring of blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and blood levels of chemicals in the body, take place to combat alcohol withdrawal.

The following medications are commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal:

Librium – A benzodiazepine, Librium is a long-acting drug that acts as a sedative and can treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and delirium tremors. This class of medication reacts within the brain and the nervous system to produce a calming effect.

Ativan – Also a benzodiazepine, Ativan is used to treat seizures and seizure disorders, before and after medical procedures to relieve anxiety, and ease the discomfort associated with alcohol withdrawal. This drug produces a calming effect and enhances the effects of certain natural chemicals in the body. (GABA)

Naltrexone – An opioid antagonist, Naltrexone is a drug that reverses the effects of opioids and is used in the managing and tapering off of alcohol and opioid abuse. It’s also used an antidote that can prevent relapse. Naltrexone is effective in treating alcohol and drug cravings and blocking the effects of narcotics. People on Naltrexone will not get the traditional “high” feeling from alcohol or drugs.

It’s important to note that medications are not a cure for alcohol or drug addiction, and medical professionals alone should administer treatment so that you benefit from carefully supervised care.

These medications can help get you through alcohol withdrawal symptoms and guide you on the road to recovery from addiction.

This article was originally published on the Recovery Village at Palmer Lake.



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